American River Main Stem


Stretch: Sunrise Avenue to Watt Avenue
Difficulty: Class I with two class II rapids
Distance: 11 miles, 1 day
Flows: rafts 800 - 6000 cfs
Gauge: release from Nimbus Dam (NAT)
Gradient: 4 fpm average, steeper at beginning
Put-in: Sunrise Avenue river park, 68'
Take-out: Watt Avenue river park, 24'
Shuttle: 15 miles (30 minutes) one-way
Maps: American River Parkway, AAA Sacramento Valley, Topo
Season: Year round, dam release
Agency: city park
Notes: © 1998 Bill Tuthill, CreeksYahoo

Below Folsom Reservoir, all forks of the American have come together. This stretch is an excellent beginner run with good scenery, especially considering that it is smack dab in the midst of a city. Parkland lines the river most of the way, and towards the end, bayous make interesting explorations. Although on summer weekends unguided rafts ply the river, crowds are seldom a problem, since rafts are usually rented to small groups. Several salmon runs take place in late fall and throughout the winter.

A bicycle path exists along this entire river segment, so if you can't nail down a second shuttle vehicle, a bicycle makes a pleasant alternative. Hide and lock your bicycle in the bushes near Watt Ave, or in one of the intermediary access areas.

Upstream of Folsom Reservoir are many excellent whitewater runs, including the popular South Fork American and the lesser known Middle Fork American.

Put in on a shady beach downstream of the bridge at Sunrise Ave. Alternate put-ins are available upriver near Folsom dam, for example at Sailor Bar Park (north bank), but there are no significant rapids upstream.
American River Parkway CA American River Parkway CA
Crowds of rental rafters at Sunrise put-in  IKs are more maneuverable in waterfights
San Juan Rapid (class II). This rapid is a breeze to run on the left, where a smooth tongue of water pushes you left, away from a circular eddy on the right. However, you'll want to milk this rapid for all it's worth, since there aren't many others. So either stay towards the center to catch the eddy, or take one of the more adventurous slots thru a rock fence. It is good practice to paddle below the rocks and across slots. Mondo surfing!
San Juan is a popular surfing destination for park'n'play boaters. Surfer doodz say it's best to approach from downstream at Rossmoor; see the end of this writeup for vehicle driving directions.
American River Parkway CA American River Parkway CA
Rafters and tubers show the easy route  Surfin' the biggest wave in San Juan
Access point at Hoffman Park, right bank. Current slows down noticeably.
Access point and pedestrian bridge at Goethe Park, left bank (the locals pronounce this “Geddy park”).
Arden Rapid (class II). This rapid can change significantly during flood years. In 1997 it was a willow jumble on the right, and a long gravel bar riffle on the left, followed by some squirrelly water below as the river pushes against gravel deposits.
American River Parkway CA American River Parkway CA
Arden Rapid from pleasant island above  Kayakers dwarfed by the long wave train
Current slows down and hardly moves at all. Blisters and glare from the afternoon sun can cause problems.
Islands and bayous create a navigation challenge and provide many opportunities for exploration, if you have time and energy.
Take out on the left near the bridge for Watt Avenue. You could boat further, for to Howe Avenue for example.
Downstream of this run the American joins the larger Sacramento river and continues into the Delta, a haven for motorboats.

Shuttle Directions

To reach take-out, drive east from Sacramento on highway 50, and exit northward on Watt Ave. Turn into the riverside park just before crossing the river. There may be a parking fee and a per-boat user fee, which is on the honor system unless your boats are visible.

To reach put-in, return to highway 50 east, and exit northward on Sunrise Ave. Just before crossing the river, turn right and enter the riverside park by crossing under Sunrise Ave. A raft rental company is nearby. There is ample parking, some even with afternoon shade.

To approach the San Juan surfing spot from Rossmoor, about 1/3 mile downstream, take the Sunrise North exit from highway 50. Proceed to the 2nd light at Coloma Street and turn left. Follow Coloma for a fair distance (2 or 3 miles) and turn right on Rossmoor. Follow the road to the county park. Pay access fee ($4 for car plus $2 per boat). Daylight robbery has occurred here, so leave nothing valuable in your vehicle. This is the closest access downstream of San Juan, and you can drive right to the river and drop boats before you park. You must paddle upstream about 1/3 mile paddle (mostly flatwater with one riffle that takes some effort), but at the end of the day it's a joy to simply drift downstream. For those who prefer hiking to upstream paddling, an alternate approach is from the north. From Sunset turn left on Fair Oaks, and left again on Bannister. At Bannister Park start hiking downhill, staying on trails to the right.

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